"I will be outspent." This simple phrase headed an email President Obama recently sent to supporters.
"We can be outspent and still win," the message read. "But we can't be outspent 10 to 1 and still win." Obama asked for donations of as little as $3 to compete against the deep pockets of Republican challenger Mitt Romney and the super political action committees that back him.
Pro-Obama super PACs simply haven't been able to keep pace, writes Robert Draper, in this week's New York Times Magazine.
Republican super PACs Crossroads GPS and Restore Our Future expect to raise a total of $400 million by the time the election comes around in November. An additional $400 million has been pledged by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
The pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA, on the other hand, hopes to raise $100 million, according to Draper.
There's absolutely no arms race here, he says. "Basically, they've implicitly conceded that they cannot match dollar-for-dollar," he says.
Draper spoke to weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz about whether the Democrats can still gain an edge.
On the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA
"Fully a year after the Citizen's United Supreme Court decision, a number of Super PACs had cropped up as a direct result of that decision, but none on the Democratic side. And concern was mounting in a lot of corners that this sort of unilateral disarmament that had, in large part, been promulgated by President Obama ... was going to have major consequences in the 2012 election.
"So, [Priorities USA founders Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney] figured this was a void they would fill and were not deterred by the fact that they'd never done anything like this before — these guys were messaging and campaigning strategy guys, not guys that went around raising money from rich people."
On the Obama's change of heart on Super PACs
"Obama had staked out a position that these Super PACs were bad, and I think he read — correctly, for the most part — that a lot of Democrats would feel that way. But by December of 2011, when the gross disparity between what the Republicans were raising in terms of super PAC monies and what Priorities USA was raising ... then the campaign manager Jim Messina showed those numbers to fellow advisor David Axelrod ... It was at that time that Obama finally said, 'We're not going to unilaterally disarm,' and 'Go forth and prosper, Priorities USA."
On the Priorities USA's strategy
"Given that they can't match the Republicans dollar-for-dollar, what they believe that they've got to do ... is to frame Romney in a very negative light, to basically tell a story of Romney that would repel voters from him.
"What they came across ... was a narrative based on Romney's time at Bain Capital, the private equity group.
"Their thinking behind this is not just that all these people who were laid off as a result of certain acquisitions of companies by Bain, but it was even more effective as a means of explaining who Mitt Romney is, because Romney's message he's been telling people over and over is, 'I understand how the economy works.' ... And the rejoinder in these ads that Priorities USA has put out is implicitly that he does know how the economy works, but he's only interested in making it work for rich guys like himself."
On the effectiveness of Priorities USA's ads
"There's pretty hard statistical evidence that both sides have seen that in swing states and amongst independent voters ... that Romney's unfavorables have gone up and those people who've been polled and been interviewed about this have in fact cited, 'Well, it's terrible what he did, laying off these people.'
"It's clear that it's having an effect now. Will it ultimately have that much of an effect? Will they manage to turn that many voters, especially given that in the fall, these hundreds of millions of dollars from the Republican side will be unleashed in terms of negative attacks on Obama? Will their ability to shake up swing voters in these particularly targeted areas make much of a difference? We'll have to see."